Kenny at centre of EU bust-up as row rages over council president
Taoiseach Enda Kenny could find himself at the centre of an EU bust-up today as a row rages over Donald Tusk's presidency of the European Council.
Mr Kenny, who is due to step down as Taoiseach in the coming weeks, has been tipped as a potential compromise candidate to replace Mr Tusk in Brussels.
However, sources say the Taoiseach remains among 26 of the EU's 28 leaders rallying around the under-pressure incumbent.
In an unprecedented development, Mr Tusk's re-election is opposed by the government of his native Poland, which has put forward an alternative candidate, MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski.
Tensions between Mr Tusk and the Polish government have been mounting for years, with PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski holding Mr Tusk 'morally responsible' for a 2010 plane crash that killed then-president Lech Kaczynski, his twin brother.
"I am not the one responsible for clashes," said Mr Tusk yesterday. "I know my role, as president of the European Council: I am and I should be also in the future impartial and politically neutral."
Rumours have abounded in Brussels about possible alternatives to Mr Tusk, with French President François Hollande and German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel getting media mentions.
The 'Sunday Independent' revealed at the weekend that Mr Kenny is now also seen as a potential candidate.
But the idea of having somebody waiting in the wings was described last night by one senior EU diplomat as "audacious".
Even with Poland - and possibly Hungary - against him, Mr Tusk is expected to win a second term. While EU leaders prefer to make decisions unanimously, they are not bound to do so.
EU leaders, including Mr Kenny, will gather in Brussels today for talks on the future of Europe ahead of the bloc's 60th anniversary in Rome at the end of March.
The bloc is wrangling over its post-Brexit future, with divisions emerging between countries such as France and Germany, who want to push ahead on defence or migration plans without recalcitrant states holding them back, and eastern countries fearful of being isolated.
Speaking in advance of the meetings, the Taoiseach said: "The March European Council has a broad-ranging agenda. Obviously efforts to address migration remain a central priority for the Union."
He added: "Discussions on the future direction of Europe are also crucial, particularly as we respond to the various challenges we face.
"We must remain united at 27, focus on our core values that remain central to our peace and prosperity, and co-operate in areas where we agree and where Europe can add value. Completing the single market and supporting jobs through trade are good examples of where Europe really works for citizens."
"I will be emphasising these points in discussions over the next two days," he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny told a meeting of Fine Gael's parliamentary party last night that the St Patrick's Day trips which are planned by ministers will be Brexit-focused. The Taoiseach said that he will be outlining during his US trip that he hopes to see amendments to a 1960s act which discriminates against Irish immigrants.
The meeting also heard from water committee members who said that Fine Gael's "steadfast position" is that there must be water meters installed in new builds.